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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Q&A: Teleportation
Australian researchers say they have been able to teleport the light from a laser from one part of a laboratory to another. BBC News Online Science Editor, Dr David Whitehouse, answers some basic questions about teleportation.

Moving beams of light around sounds like a clever trick, is it relevant to me?

The ultra-fast computers of the future will be based on beams of light that exploit the strange properties of the sub-atomic or quantum mechanical world. Using light and quantum mechanics offers the prospect of computers trillions of times more powerful than we have today. The first, tentative but encouraging, steps have been made towards primitive quantum computers.

Will we ever be able to move solid objects around?

Highly unlikely. It seems we can move photons of light around and photons do not weigh anything. Perhaps in a few years, we could teleport a single atom. Some researchers believe that we may be able to teleport a virus but they will not say when.

I've seen stuff like this on Star Trek? How would a Star Trek transporter work in real life?

The idea is that a human body is broken down into information and transmitted in some way to another place where that information is used to rebuild the human. Personally, I would take the train.

OK, crystal ball time - at the end of this century, how far could things have advanced?

It is always difficult to speculate about the future. But that will not stop me. We may be able to teleport a molecule, perhaps a few tens of atoms. That would be a great scientific achievement but not a useful matter transporter.

And will we ever transport a human?

To teleport a human would require knowledge of the type and exact position and movement of every atom of the person to be teleported. That is about a hundred thousand million million million million atoms. To send that information down today's fast data transfer systems would take a hundred million times longer than the present age of the Universe (which is about 15 thousand million years).

If it is ever possible, there is the question of whether destroying a human to teleport their information to another place to rebuild them again would constitute murder, and you might also want to discuss if the teleported human would actually be the original person or a copy.

What you had to say on the subject:

Sure I would get in a transporter. Hang on, what if a fly is teleported with you?
Richard, UK

There is more to life than just the physical form

Morgan, New Zealand
Seems to me, if a transporter were ever built like the ones on StarTrek, they would be able to scan every tiny detail down to the atomic level, and and then transmit that data to another like terminal that could then reconstruct all that info in to an exact duplicate. Transport the original, not likely, but transport an exact copy, sure, why not?
William R. Vire, US

Anyone wanting to use a teleport initially would have to get over the major hurdle of fearing death. To their friends on the receiving end of the it they would be saying: "Wow! It worked after all". Their fear, now a copy from the original, would subside with more and more uses of it. Even looking at it logically like that, I would have a hard time persuading myself to use it.
Paul Smith, UK

There is more to life than just the physical form. I'm not talking about a soul, though many will want to. I'm talking about the difference between a living being and a dead one. Im also talking about the billions of billions of electrical processes in the brain, and also the information that gets sent around a living being, the nervous system. Can that information be preserved? And sent? And Reconstructed? If a person were reciting a poem in their head at the moment of "teleportation", would their thoughts continue at the point they left off when their body is reconstructed?
Morgan, New Zealand

For years men have considered various ways to eliminate the troublesome burden of a mother-in-law. It seems we are on the verge of a solution. Teleport her. If it takes thousands of years, so what? If she is not the same when reassembled, then perhaps all the better.
Bob Baumann, New York City, US

Great idea guys! This would save congestion on Britains motorways!

David, UK
It's just another toy for the scientist around the world to play around with. Why are these people developing teleporters, and spending God knows how much money on these devices, which are going to be used for what? And yet there are millions of people around the world, thinking why isn't the government spending any money to beat starvation, poverty, diseases...
Barry Sylvester, Korea

Great idea guys! This would save congestion on Britains motorways!
David, UK

I like it a lot and I firmly believe that someday in the near future teleportation of human beings will be possible. Accordingly, when it happens and proved with no failures, I will be glad to teleport on (in) it.
Mekbib Adgeh, US

In what way can teleportation be useful in quantum computers? Won't the time/speed for a calcuation to be performed or information transferred be restricted by the physical connections carrying the information to various parts of the machine?
Matt, Australia

It seems that the fabulous and manifestly useful work done at ANU is less "teleporting" photons from one place to another (same photons), but rather "replicating" photons with identical properties at a distance. Is this so? If it is, then why all this talk of teleporting, rather than "distance replicating" or some other such phrase?
Ann, Singapore

You say that maybe this teletransporter could someday be used to transport very tiny bits of matter. Could someone someday use it to impregnate a woman without her knowledge by teletransporting sperm? and would that be considered rape?
Don, US

See also:

17 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
20 Jan 00 | Science/Nature
20 Jul 99 | Science/Nature
27 Oct 98 | Science/Nature
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